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Citizens work to cut conflict with logging operation
Story is dated 2003
If you want to see the kind of toll losing a major industry can take on a community, just look to Reserve, N.M., in the 1990s. The decades-old economic foundation of the area — large diameter logging — crumbled when environmentalists forced a moratorium on logging in the Gila National Forest. Stone Forest Industries, which had harvested the woods for half a century, ceased mill operations in Reserve, the seat of Catron County, in 1993.
Loggers, U.S. Forest Service workers and others in related industries lost their jobs. Tensions mounted, pitting neighbor against neighbor. At one point the county made national news when commissioners passed a law requiring every household to own a gun.
The economic strain on area residents eventually became apparent to the county’s only doctor, Mark Unverzagt.
In 1995, Unverzagt began to notice that many of his patients — loggers and environmentalists alike — were suffering from stress and anxiety. Depression, substance abuse, marital strife and violence escalated among the residents of the rural town. Unverzagt was asked to participate in a support group for unemployed forest service workers, but, "It became clear to me after the second or third meeting that it would be hard to do anything meaningful without a larger initiative," he says.
Unverzagt called on Dr. Ben Daitz, a professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of New Mexico, who was acting as a health consultant for the county. And he called Melinda Smith at the New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution.
Together they formed the Catron County Citizens Group, an unlikely coalition of ranchers, environmentalists, former loggers and U.S. Forest Service employees and other community members, whose goal was to increase economic development in the rural area. They decided they needed jobs, and they needed to work together to get them.
"We put our heads together about what to do about all of this. We decided to organize a meeting of the combatants, as it were," Daitz says.
It wasn’t easy. The group’s major achievement, at first, was to simply get the polarized factions in the same room. Once that happened, they focused mainly on building bridges and easing tension within the community. (Daitz made a documentary of the conflict and resolution process called "Whose Home on the Range?" The film has won national and international accolades.)
The group eventually decided its mission was "to come together to openly and honestly discuss and deal with the diverse situations we face, finding common ground from our different points of view to ensure an economically, socially, and environmentally sound future for us all."
Eventually, they identified small diameter mill work as a viable potential business that could bring jobs to the region. And they are now about to reap the rewards of eight years of hard work. This summer, the small diameter mill will begin processing wood harvested from the Gila National Forest.
The group’s first supply of wood will come from a 10,000-acre area of the Negrito Watershed that has been slated by the local U.S. Forest Service office for harvesting. The trees extracted from the Sheep Basin Forest Restoration Project, all approximately under 16 inches in diameter, will be used to create custom home building products — logs for log homes, vigas, tongue and groove wall paneling, and custom molding, among other products.
The small diameter operation is taking place at the old mill site. Catron County purchased the 22-acre mill campus from Stone Forest in 1995 for $86,000 and has leased the acreage to the Citizens Group for $50,000 over a five-year period.
The site will include a round wood mill (for peeling logs), a dimensional mill (for cutting wood into pieces) and a planing operation (for molding round and dimensional wood materials).
Officials say the mill operations will eventually employ 20 to 25 people, and will help create the same number of forest service jobs.
Organizers say that reduced fire risk and increased forest health is as much a goal as economic development. They hope the nonprofit will eventually become a profitable, self-sustaining enterprise and think it has great entrepreneurial promise.
And some see the effort as a model for the future of forestry.
"These job initiatives are very important in rural communities," says Todd Schulke of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental activist who has been involved with the project for some time. "We see forest restoration as a potential growth area for employment."
Small diameter, big plans
Catron County is the state’s largest county, with a total of 6,929 square miles, but one of its least populated, with 0.5 people per square mile, on average. And it is not exactly easy to get to. From Albuquerque, you shoot south on Interstate 25 to Socorro. Hanging a right onto Interstate 60, you drive the wide plain of the Very Large Array and head west into the Datil Mountains. A sign for the Continental Divide signals the border into Catron County. At Datil, Highway 12 cuts a southwest diagonal into the center of the county. The road twists and turns for miles, greens up, gives way to large cottonwood trees along the Tularosa River, and finally Reserve appears.
On a hot day in June, Bobby Johnson and Gary Harris are working at the mill site, just five miles south of the one-street town of worn adobe buildings with sagging metal roofs. The two are refurbishing equipment from the old mill and building out the dimensional mill. Both men worked for Stone Industries in the 1990s.
Stone Forest’s traditional, large-diameter logging operation was inarguably the largest employer in the area for decades, creating jobs for hundreds.
While this new mill will be able to produce about 5,000 to 7,000 board feet in a day with an initial skeleton crew of five, Harris says the old mill’s 19-person team could output as many as 40,000 board feet in an eight-hour shift. Its record was about 140,000 one day in May 1989.
"They were really pushing the limits of human endurance," says Harris. He points to a spot within the huge, rusting apparatus of the old mill where he was nearly killed by a loose board.
And some thought the industry needed to do more than provide jobs by taking large trees out of the woods.
The decline in Reserve’s logging industry mirrored what was happening across the nation as environmental groups increased their scrutiny of the industry.
Using federal laws, like the Endangered Species Act (1973) and the National Environmental Policy Act (1969), these groups appealed proposed logging on public lands, often slowing or halting operations altogether, as they did in Catron County in 1993.
Harris says the 1990s were hard times. "You had guys cutting and selling boards as cheap as you can sell logs for," he says of small Mom and Pop mill operations. "They were cutting each other’s throats just trying to survive."
Seven of New Mexico’s nine larger sawmills closed between 1990 and 2003. Combined, they would have produced 111 million board feet of lumber per year.
"Thirty million board feet a year were processed in ’88 and ’89 [in Reserve]," says Bob Moore, director of the Catron County Citizens Group. "By 1993, they were down to zilch."
In 1996, the unemployment rate in the county was 15.2, compared to the 8.1 percent average across the state.
Moore, who made his living for more than two decades as a consultant to large logging companies, had to lay off all 30 of his employees in the 1990s because of the cessation of large diameter logging. But he says large diameter logging needed to go.
"It took people like me down too. I have no regrets. I think it needed to happen," Moore says.
Money doesn’t grow on trees
Harris says small diameter logging is the "best return for wood in the highest paying market." While rough cut lumber sells for 35 cents per board foot, the custom products of the small diameter mill will sell for approximately 75 cents per board foot, he says. That’s after the group pays a nominal fee for the wood harvested out of the Gila.
As a nonprofit, the Catron County Citizens Group has been able to operate thanks to several grants. It received its first financial infusion in 2000 — $75,000 from the Four Corners Sustainable Forest Partnership Fund, a federal economic development project. That money was used for the planning stages or the organization.
"The FCSFP was one of the first programs that saw the potential of what we were doing," Moore says. "With that money in tow we could legitimately seek other funds."
The group has received several grants in amounts from $65,000 to $85,000 during the last few years to keep things rolling.
The group’s biggest windfall, a 2001 grant of $360,000 from the Federal Collaborative Forest Restoration Program, is being used to pay for equipment, building renovation, staff wages, and a program that provides job opportunities for young people. The money will also be used for business incubation, forest monitoring, public relations and other projects.
Moore says the project would never have gotten out of the gate without grants, but he says the group intends the mill to become profitable and self-sustaining.
Harris and Moore hope that as the business grows, it will spawn related entrepreneurial endeavors, such as firewood, custom door jambs, handmade doors and other crafts.
And though Reserve seems like it is in the middle of nowhere, it is strategically well located for shipping product. Albuquerque, El Paso, Tucson and Phoenix are all with 250 miles of the village. Transporting the products to buyers is another entrepreneurial opportunity for the locals, many of whom drive their own trucks for a living.
"The more we can share it out, the better it is for the community in the long run," says Harris.
Taking trees out of the woods
The Sheep Basin Project has been in the works for almost four years.
And Lee Benson, a member of the timber staff at the U.S. Forest Service office in Reserve, says the process has been a lengthy one. As part of the National Environmental Policy Act process, or NEPA, the forest service has to collect public input before a project is implemented. Any appeals made during this period have to be resolved before a project can start. Benson says the growth in public input over the past decades, like that from environmental groups, has made the U.S. Forest Service projects take longer than they used to.
"Our planning has become more detailed. It has become a more regulated process. We go for a lot of public input, including environmental groups, some of which we are working with on this project," Benson says.
But Benson says it saves time in the long run to get all parties involved up front.
"We want to get everyone with an interest at the table to being with. That is the direction we are moving in. I don’t know if we are there yet, but we are making progress," he says.
Moore says that the bureaucracy of the forest service also slowed the project down. He says while the local and regional offices could understand what the group was trying to achieve, convincing the Washington office was another thing altogether.
"To get buy-in from the hierarchy of the forest service was very difficult." He credits the efforts of Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, with getting funding from the U.S. Forest Service allocated for this project last summer.
Moore says the cooperative approach is imperative in the long term.
"If you just do things conservatively, you keep your options open. If you work in the forest, you eliminate your options if you [only focus on] economic gain."
Schulke, who works for the privately-funded Center for Biological Diversity, agrees.
"The key to effective collaboration is building a zone of agreement, creating a set of ideas and issues where everyone agrees about how work should happen."
Schulke admits that his organization is known for challenging timbers sales. But he says it is committed to collaboration efforts, like the Sheep Basin Project.
"We are working more collaboratively with communities to try to address local needs while at the same time restoring habitats," Schulke says. "There will hopefully be enough things that we agree on that we can get out in woods and get some good work done."
The forest for the trees
Despite the spirit of cooperation, the Sheep Basin Project has not been all smooth sailing.
Benson says the NEPA proposal went through more than one appeal process.
And then last summer, the forest service presented a final outline of the project, that neither the Catron County Citizens Group nor the Center for Biological Diversity could accept.
The forest service had marked larger, older trees to be taken out, but the other groups had a different idea. Moore explains it like this: Take out the smaller trees that impede the growth of larger ones. That will also make room for other varieties, like oak seedlings, and will open up meadows that feed wildlife in the area. What you get is a reduced fire risk, more grass for animals, including cattle, animal habitat, and more water and space for large growth trees.
Convinced, the U.S. Forest Service staff went back into the woods and unmarked 3,000 large trees previously identified for cutting.
Schulke’s group, which appealed last summer’s proposal, is now satisfied with the parameters for the Sheep Basin Project.
"It is not perfect, but we feel there was a big step made in right direction," he says.
It is a delicate business, maintaining the dialogue among such diverse parties, even when all have good intentions. And Moore says there are those who would open the area to large diameter logging again if they could. Moore calls them "timber beasts, old school."
He says collaboration is imperative to public land management.
"This is the future of forestry, how you take trees out of the woods," Moore says.
Schulke says the trend toward collaboration has been growing, but worries about the future.
"There was a big push for collaboration over the last few years. There is still some focus on it in the forest service and from western governors," he says. "But there is some question whether the Bush administration wants collaboration to happen."
Unverzagt, who left Reserve in 1997, but still keeps in touch with the Catron County Citizens Group, thinks the group’s efforts can be used as a model.
"My own feeling is that it is part of the answer for rural communities that are facing a situation of political and economic gridlock," he says.
Moore is certain of the future in one respect.
"If you don’t get environmental approval, if you don’t do it in a certain way, this industry is toast."
Logging in the Sacramento Mountains
By Pat Rand
(Author’s Note: Material for this article came from the archives of the Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum and interviews with Bill Dees, Phil Fuller, and Mark Hare.)
With the organization of the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad by the Eddy Brothers in 1897, running north out of El Paso, there was an immediate need for a large amount of lumber from which to make railroad ties. A scouting party was sent into the Sacramento Mountains to determine if it was feasible to extend a railroad line up to the summit and bring timbers down to the newly founded city of Alamogordo.
When the report indicated it would be practical, two new companies were organized by the same people who invested in the EP & NE Railroad. The Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railroad was formed to operate a line from Alamogordo up to the proposed resort of Cloudcroft, and the Alamogordo Lumber Company was established for the purpose of operating a lumber industry in the Sacramento Mountains.
Agreements were drawn up between the two newly-formed corporations in 1898, which included provisions that the Lumber Company would build and equip a sawmill capable of cutting 50,000 board feet of lumber per day, it would provide 110 railroad cars for transportation of the logs, and it would build the necessary laterals and tramways to deliver the logs to the railroad. The Railroad Company would construct and provide a railroad line from the mill to the summit of the Sacramento Mountains, would receive all logs delivered to it and transport them to the mill in Alamogordo, and return all empty cars to points designated by the Lumber Company.
In 1899, the Lumber Company built its plant in Alamogordo on the west side of the railroad yards and, on October 5th, the new sawmill began operation. It was equipped with the usual collection of support shops and outbuildings, including a two-story, 40 room boarding house. Logs were being loaded onto the railroad at Toboggan, where a spur extended into the timber. A steam loader was on hand at that point. Another spur was run into Bailey Canyon, and a logging camp was built in the vicinity. As soon as the railroad reached the head of Cox Canyon in June 1900, spurs were run eastward down Pumphouse Canyon and southeasterly down Cox Canyon. The line down Pumphouse Canyon dropped into James Canyon, where another logging camp was built, including a four-track engine house and an elevated water tank.
In these early years, logging was done with hand saws and animals – usually horses and mules, but occasionally oxen – were used for hauling. Logs were skidded to landings along the railroad spurs, where they were hoisted onto the log cars by steam loaders. Usually, they would be accumulated until an entire train could be loaded. In May 1901, the railroad handled 850 cars of logs, representing two trains a day, seven days a week. During August 1901, the Alamogordo Lumber Company filed deeds for 26,000 acres of timberland in 489 parcels and used government land scrip to obtain as much as 30,000 additional acres.
In December 1901, the lumber company ordered $15,000 worth of equipment for a wood preservation plant and, by June 1902, the plant – located next to the saw mill – was operating, producing treated railroad ties and timbers. About this time, the work of cutting and skidding the trees to the railroad spur was being done by a sub-contractor, the New Mexico Tie and Timber Company. In May 1903, the railroad line was completed to the head of Russia Canyon, where a logging spur headed east down the canyon. A logging camp, made up of about 100 wooden cabins and several larger buildings, was built about a mile from the junction. It consisted of a commissary for the Tie and Timber Company, a railroad shop, a roundhouse for the locomotives, a post office, a school house and two cook shacks with mess rooms for the loggers and railroaders.
The Alamogordo Lumber Company had steady customers with its affiliated railroads during construction periods and later as ties and timbers needed replacement, and the mines in Arizona were purchasing timbers in million-board-foot lots. By late 1903, the company assets included 11 miles of logging railroad, four locomotives, a payroll of 650 men and eight to ten million board-feet of lumber in stock. Occasionally, railroad and weather problems resulted in a shutdown of the sawmill due to a shortage of logs and, in the best of times, it required constant effort to cut enough logs to keep the mill going.
In 1907, a Federal investigation was begun into alleged irregularities in the purchase of timberlands by the Alamogordo Lumber Company from the Territory of New Mexico, and an injunction was issued prohibiting any logging on the lands in question. Although the company had almost 30,000 acres of timber with a clear title, they were apparently not prepared to log those areas immediately. The Alamogordo mill was shut down in late 1907, and all logging operations in the mountains ceased.
In April 1909, the railroad tracks in Russia Canyon were removed and the steel was salvaged. The tracks in Cox Canyon were also removed. During 1909 and 1910, much of the equipment at the sawmill was sold off. The Phelps Dodge Company, which had purchased the land and timber interests together with the railroad, expressed an interest in starting logging operations if the Federal lawsuits were dismissed, but nothing was done until after New Mexico became a state in 1912. The new State courts assumed jurisdiction of the lawsuits and promptly dismissed them.
By this time, the Alamogordo Lumber Company was no longer a viable company. The lawsuits had denied it access to its most useful timber for an extended time period, with the accompanying loss of markets. In order to bring the situation back to normal, it was necessary to form a new company to continue the logging business in the area. The Sacramento Mountain Lumber Company was incorporated in Arizona on August 7th, 1916, and took over the partly-dismantled mill and some of the timber holdings of the Alamogordo Lumber Company.
The new company replaced the old horse and mule logging method with heavy machinery, which consisted of steam operated skidders with booms and cables. New rail lines were built in late1916 into the various mountain canyons, and full trains were once again heading down the hill to the mill in Alamogordo. Unfortunately, problems seemed to constantly face the company. Fires destroyed both timber and railroad equipment, and one of their locomotives was wrecked and out of service for several months. During the summer of 1917, the mill was shut down completely. Although operations were resumed in 1918, the wartime prosperity had declined and markets dwindled. The crowning blow was a fire in January 1919 that destroyed the sawmill, and the entire operation was shut down.
In July 1920, the Sacramento Mountain Lumber Company was sold to the next outfit to try its hand at lumbering in the Sacramento Mountains – Southwest Lumber Company. It had previously been organized by Louis Carr, an experienced lumberman, who had obtained the rights to almost 70,000 acres of hardwood timber – oak, walnut and chestnut – from the George W. Vanderbilt estate in North Carolina, and had cut the timber for 20 years. An immigrant from Italy who arrived in this country as a teenager with 35 cents in his pocket, Carr’s North Carolina lumber business was valued at over three million dollars at the time he began his New Mexico company.
It took some time to repair and restore the equipment from the Sacramento Mountain Lumber Company, but logging and milling resumed in February 1921, and capacity steadily increased throughout the year. A new locomotive was purchased and, by October, production reached one million board-feet of lumber per month. By this time, the railroad was bringing 15 to 16 loads daily down the hill to the mill.
In 1922, the company built a permanent camp at Marcia. It became the terminal for logging railroad operations, with engines bringing loaded cars from the outlying areas for incorporation into longer trains to be taken to Russia. In September of that year, the company purchased the remaining timberland of the Alamogordo Lumber Company, and also purchased additional timber from National Forest and State land. In Marcia, a roundhouse and machine shop were built and equipped to perform the necessary maintenance work on the locomotives and steam loaders used in the woods.
During 1923 and 1924, Southwest Lumber Company continued to expand, extending south and east into the various canyons, and logging in these canyons continued throughout the 1920s. Also, during this time, the company began receiving logs from the Cloudcroft Lumber and Land Company, which was logging on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. In 1921, Ben Longwell, who had been involved in various timber operations in the area since 1899, and C.M. Pate – his partner from Louisville, Kentucky – formed the Cloudcroft Lumber and Land Company. Longwell had obtained a contract from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to purchase about 160 million board-feet of pine and fir on the reservation in December 1920. Longwell, who was an experienced surveyor, laid out a railroad line from Cloudcroft to the reservation, a distance of about eight miles. Lack of financing caused a slowdown in construction, and the first logs weren’t delivered to the mill until the summer of 1924.
The shipping cost over 35 miles to the mill was quite high and, in a little over a year – in October 1925 – Longwell and Pate filed a petition of voluntary receivership in the District Court. George E. Breece was an experienced lumberman who had operated mills in Louisiana and Virginia, and had an interest in the White Pine Lumber Company in Bernalillo, NM. He successfully negotiated with Longwell and Pate and, on June 3, 1926, took over the assets and property of the Cloudcroft Lumber and Land Company.
Within a month of the purchase, Breece arranged with Southern Pacific to provide rail and equipment which would allow him to extend his logging railroad, and negotiated with the Texas-Louisiana Power Company on using the waste sawdust from his new sawmill to fuel a proposed new steam power plant that would provide Alamogordo and nearby cities with a new source of electricity. In February 1927, the power plant was completed and went into operation, and the sawmill began cutting timber. In the mountains, logging operations were contracted out, and two crews composed of 300 men were delivering about 75,000 board-feet of lumber to the railroad daily. As soon as the sawmill was operating, work began on a planing mill and box plant, and they went into operation in June 1927.
By 1927, the heavy overhead logging equipment that Southwest Lumber had inherited from its predecessor was disposed of, and logging operations began utilizing the new, practical, Caterpillar tractor more and more. They were used with hydraulic steel arches to pull the timbers. In 1929, a large quantity – more than 15 million board feet – of state timber was advertised for sale in Dark and Wills Canyons with Southwest being the successful bidder. A sawmill was established in Wills Canyon, and rail lines were continued about four miles further down Wills Canyon with branch spurs going up several side canyons.
The national economic depression hit the area in 1930. By June, the entire operation of Breece Lumber Company was shut down for an indefinite period. As a result of the shutdown, there was an immediate stoppage of the waste-wood fuel supply for the power plant. The company was forced to use more expensive fuels, and finally installed diesel generators in December 1932, at which time the steam plant was shut down permanently. The power company unsuccessfully sued Breece for breach of contract, and then went into receivership.
Southwest Lumber Company continued to operate, but at a loss, for three years, at the insistence of Louis Carr. Thousands of feet of lumber were piled in the yard without a buyer. Then urgent calls came from CCC (Civic Conservation Corp) camps all over southern New Mexico, requiring lumber as quickly as possible. Contracts were given for lumber in 11 camps, and Southwest sold 2.6 million board-feet of lumber in 30 days. Louis Carr’s kindness had paid off.
In January 1935, Southwest was the successful bidder on almost 30 million board-feet of lumber in what was called the Agua Chiquita Unit. Rail lines were run up Wills Canyon and over the summit into Scott Able Canyon and finally into the Agua Chiquita. By this time, Southwest had over 30 miles of rail lines. About the same time, the company purchased the timber rights on the Cloudcroft Reserve from the Southern Pacific Company. After considerable controversy, they built a line around the south and east sides of the Village of Cloudcroft, and logged under highly restricted conditions.
In an attempt to get back on its feet, Breece Lumber Company sold its logging railroad for scrap in 1939 and then, in the summer of 1940, sold its Mescalero timber contracts to the Prestridge Lumber Company, which then shipped the material by truck to the Southwest Lumber Company Mill in Alamogordo. In 1941, Breece sold the balance of its assets, including its sawmill, to Prestridge, which reopened the mill on June 3, 1941.
M.R. Prestridge, president of the company, grew up in the lumber business. His father was an early day timber man in Louisiana and East Texas who came to New Mexico in the 1920s and had a lumber business in Albuquerque. His son went to work for him in 1931 in the Albuquerque and Grants areas before forming his own company.
In addition to handling Prestridge’s Mescalero lumber, Southwest purchased an estimated 30 million board-feet of lumber from the C.M. Harvey holdings located between James and Cox Canyons. Special agreements protected the scenic and watershed qualities of the tract, and logging was done under strict Forest Service rules and supervision. Southwest continued its railroad operations into the war years but, by late 1942, it was determined that trucking was cheaper and more practical than running trains over the tortuous railroad, which now extended more than 30 miles and required four locomotives. All equipment was stored at Marcia, and the spurs were taken up, with the rails being sold as scrap. Only the main line from Marcia remained.
By 1945, it became obvious that Southwest, with its long timber hauls and aging sawmill, could no longer compete with Prestridge. Carr shut down the sawmill but continued with his planing mill until September of that year, when Prestridge Lumber Company purchased all the assets of Southwest Lumber Company, including the largest stand of private timber in the Sacramento Mountains. Southwest had operated for 25 years – longer than any of the major companies in the area. Carr then returned to his native North Carolina, where he continued in the lumber business until his death at 94 in 1953.
Prestridge operated in Alamogordo until moving its operations to El Paso in September 1960. This was quite a blow to the city, since more than 200 men had been on its payroll and the mill had averaged a production of 20 million board-feet of lumber per year. A fleet of diesel trucks had brought the timber to the mill, which was powered by its own sawdust and waste scrap. In the opinion of other loggers, Prestridge operated until all the fine material had been used up, and then decided it was unprofitable to continue with its operations.
The plant sat idle until it was purchased by the La Luz Lumber Company in May 1968, with a contract to provide lumber to Sears, Roebuck and Company for the making of their line of unfinished furniture. After only three years of operation, the mill was sold to Allied Forest Products Company of Portland, Oregon.
Allied’s subsidiary, White Sands Forest Products, took over and continuously operated the plant from 1971 until it shut down in 2000, mainly due to the lack of accessible lumber. Forest fires in the area greatly contributed to this situation, but the primary cause was the actions of environmentalists who, in their attempt to protect the Mexican spotted owl and its habitat, had the Forest Service set aside 65,000 acres of forest for this purpose in 1993.
White Sands Forest MFP, which had successfully operated a mill on the Mescalero Reservation, took over the plant in April 2001, and began operating on a reduced scale with material brought in through the thinning of the reservation’s forests and private land cutting.
Small operators have had sawmills in the area over the years. The Mershon Lumber Company operated in the Mayhill area from 1937 until 1941, when it was dismantled and taken to the Weed area. The Jackson Lumber Company opened in 1962 in Alamogordo after Prestridge had moved out. The Otero Mill also operated in Alamogordo during the 1970s. Another company was the Valley Lumber Company, operated by Charlie Denton, which had a mill in Mayhill, and supplied lumber to the surrounding towns and to Ruidoso.
Two lumber mills are still operating in the mountains. One is Chippeway Lumber – located near Weed and operated by Phil Fuller, a third generation lumber man – which began operations in 1952 and produces 600 to 800 thousand board-feet of lumber per year. The second is Dees‚ Sawmill – which began its operations at the present location just east of the James Canyon Cemetery on Highway 82 in 1960 and produces about 400 thousand board-feet of lumber per year. It is owned and operated by Bill Dees, whose grandfather began the business in Pietown, New Mexico – located between Socorro and Quemado – before the turn of the century.
In 2001, after years of finger pointing and serious disagreements over how the forests should be managed, cooperation between the Forest Service, Congress, Federal, State and Local officials from a dozen agencies, plus private citizen representatives, came about with the forming of the Lincoln National Forest Program Working Group ( LNFPWG ), which hopes to thin the forests and bring them back to a state of health within a 20 year period.
It is hoped that common sense rather than emotions will take control of this situation, and the Sacramento Mountains will return to having a healthy environmental condition and be enjoyed by everyone.